How Fans of BTS, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift & More Are Changing Music Marketing
Why fans -- and their moms -- grind through 24-hour social media shifts and take leave from day jobs to help drive their idols up the charts.
"We are falling behind on streaming," warns a nonprofit fan site devoted to pushing music by the South Korean boy band BTS up the Billboard charts, explaining that "Shazam data [is] sent to radio stations to determine which song the public is into. Hence, we need to get as many Shazams in as possible for radio plays!"
But the site, BTSXUSA.com, cautions that "Shazam is not the same as streaming," and just because a few radio stations have added BTS tracks to their rotations, "that is not an indication to slack off on requesting."
Amelie Chambord, a superfan and government employee in her 40s who lives in Los Angeles, is one of eight social media managers who works for the site, volunteering her free time after seeing BTS perform at the 2014 Korean Culture Convention (K-CON) in L.A. to help the group go mainstream.
"Other fan bases were encouraging streaming and sales of albums, but only a few accounts were brave enough to tap on radio promotions," says Chambord. "We want to see them break records and write history."
The site is one of a growing number of fan-operated platforms mobilizing fellow fanatics to take actions that can boost artists' revenue -- and record labels are taking notice. The platforms range from fan sites to "update accounts" on Twitter manned by volunteers around the world that not only encourage streaming and Shazaming but also might alert fans to which hotel their favorite artist is staying at, what he or she ordered at Starbucks or exactly what time the artist's sound check begins. There are update accounts for every major act, which proliferate as artists expand their fan bases overseas. BTS, for example, has @ BTSNewsBrasil, @ BTS_Europe and @ BTSxCalifornia working around the clock to keep fans current. Fan-run Instagram accounts also compete fiercely for likes from the artists themselves -- though, with limited linking abilities, Instagrammers can't drive as much streaming. Many fans operate these sites and accounts for free, but reap a range of other benefits, from hands-on youth marketing experience and online social status to the knowledge that they've had a role in their favorite artist's success.
"It's what I love to do -- I dedicate myself almost 24 hours a day, and it's like my job," says John Anjos, a 19-year-old musician and ballet dancer who started @ BTS_Daily a year ago in Brazil. With a half-million followers, he relies on marketing partnerships to make money but says that he dreams of working in the music industry.For labels, quietly providing update accounts with artist news can also be a more authentic-seeming way to message fans.
"Keeping tabs on these accounts is essential," says Michael D. Goodman Jr., a digital marketing consultant and social media manager at RCA Records. "In most cases, they do a better job of promoting than those on the inside. I've found that including these types of accounts on new releases and premieres often obtains more reach than the artist posting about it themselves."
The Beyoncé-focused Twitter account @TheBeyHiveTeam, for example, had "very close ties to the music industry," a representative told Billboard after breaking the news on Twitter in November 2017 that the singer would feature on Eminem's single "Walk on Water." (The Twitter account has since been deactivated; the representative, reached through Facebook, declined to provide further details.)
The people operating fan-army platforms range from teenage superfans to middle-aged moms. Rachel, a 43-year-old mother of two teenagers in Sydney, who declined to share her last name, is one of 15 people behind the Twitter account @LouisT91Updates, which provides news on former One Direction member Louis Tomlinson. They demand at least five hours of work a day from each teammate, and when Tomlinson is on the road, "it is not unusual for team members to work for more than 24 hours straight or to take leave from their paying jobs to cover activities," explained Rachel in an email to Billboard, noting that they receive hundreds of applications each time they tweet about an opening for an unpaid position on the team. (The vetting process includes interviews, trial periods and practice tweeting on a fake account.) Rachel, now a business consultant, says she applied three years ago after attending concerts with her One Direction-obsessed teenaged children, in part to explore a new career in social media marketing.
"My kids find it fairly amusing that I know just as much (if not more) about social media than they do," she wrote. "There are quite literally no formal courses that cover the breadth of what we do -- trust me, I've looked."
Goals vary. In November, Kanye West fans organized to stream West's "Hey Mama" en masse the same day that Taylor Swift released her album Reputation, "hopefully getting that song the #1 spot on daily streams over any of Taylor's songs," one West fan posted on Reddit. But 25-year-old Boston-based Swift fan Sarah Edwards, whom Swift herself follows on Tumblr, says she's just proud to help an artist "who cares so much about the people who support her" and shows "how much she appreciates our loyalty." Thanks to concert invites from Swift's team, says Edwards, "I haven't purchased a Taylor ticket in five years."
Debbie White, a partner at Loeb & Loeb who represents BTS, says she's wary of issues that can arise when superfans "overstep," using social media handles that the artist then can't use, selling out-of-print items or hacking and leaking unreleased tunes. But "when it comes to BTS," she says, "I have never seen such loyalty and backing at such an early stage."